What is in this article?:
- California’s three-year drought, which ended with this season’s cool and wet weather, had complicated and serious impacts that have been poorly understood and reported.
- The Pacific Institute has just completed a nine-month assessment of new data from California’s agricultural, energy, and environmental sectors to evaluate actual consequences of the drought for the state.
Farm job losses
The most recent U.S. Census data and California Employment Development Department data demonstrate that agriculture-related jobs were not disproportionally reduced in areas experiencing water-supply restrictions. Rather, widespread job losses over the drought period were more severe in non-agricultural sectors, such as sales and construction. The Great Valley Center reports that in the Central Valley, there was a 2 percent gain in agriculture-related jobs between 2003 and 2009, but a 44 percent reduction in construction-related jobs over that same time. Also striking is that when wetter weather returned in 2009-2010, unemployment rates still rose in every San Joaquin Valley County, despite greater water supplies. The poverty and high unemployment in the region are real and systemic, but this has been true even in wet years.
“These data show that unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley is a long-term problem, not simply the result of the recent drought. The poverty rate in the southern San Joaquin Valley – ironically one of the highest-grossing agricultural regions in the world – has been consistently above 20 percent for a decade,” said Christian-Smith. “Hunger, homelessness, and other signs of poverty are real and happening, and they are happening in wet years and dry ones. Genuine efforts to address chronic poverty in the region are needed.”
Energy costs to consumers rose during the drought
California hydropower production declined significantly during the drought years as water flows dropped, with both economic and environmental costs. Much of this lost hydropower was made up with the purchase and combustion of natural gas, costing California rate payers $1.7 billion and producing an additional 13 million tons of carbon dioxide (approximately a 10 percent increase in average annual CO2 emissions from California power plants), along with substantial quantities of other pollutants that are known contributors to the formation of smog and triggers for asthma.